Five Chinese Christians from a house church in Shanxi Province, who were sentenced to prison for “illegally crossing the national border” after attending a Christian conference in Malaysia where Pastors Tim Keller and D.A. Carson were speakers, have been released, according to a report.
Members of Xuncheng Reformed Church in Taiyuan city received the five Christians — Zhang Ligong, Wang Runyun, Wang Shiqiang, Zhang Yaowen and Song Shoushan — at the detention center last Wednesday, the U.S.-based group ChinaAid, which monitors human rights in China, said.
The five Christians, who were arrested last July for taking part in “KL2020 Gospel and Culture” conference hosted by a Chinese Indonesian Pastor Stephen Tong, appeared to be full of peace and joy after their release, the group noted.
“Dear family, we are back home safely. Thank you for your prayers. I am very grateful!” Wang Runyun wrote on social media after his release alongside a photo with his son and daughter.
The five had traveled together to Malaysia to attend the conference from Jan. 28–31, 2020.
Keller, a theologian and bestselling author, and Carson, emeritus professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and co-founder of The Gospel Coalition, were among the speakers at the international conference.
The five had legally traveled to Malaysia with their valid passports, but they were sentenced to prison sentences ranging from six months to eight months and fines up to $475.
In recent years, Xuncheng Church has been heavily targeted and subjected to constant harassment, including the detention of a preacher and several members.
Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, estimates that there are about 97 million Christians in China. A large percentage of these Christians worship in what China’s communist government considers to be “illegal” and unregistered underground house churches.
The group has also warned that many unregistered churches have been “forced to split up into small groups and gather in different locations, keeping a low profile so as not to be detected by the sub-district officer or neighborhood committee.”
As Beijing hosted the Winter Olympics earlier this year, many expressed outrage about China’s treatment of religious minority communities. While China was accused of genocide for its detainment of Uyghur and other ethnic Muslims in western China, human rights activists had voiced concern for years about the Chinese government’s longtime crackdown on unregistered churches and house church movements.
Gina Goh from the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern earlier said, “Since the Revised Regulations on Religious Affairs took effect in February 2018, the Chinese government has added more laws seeking to curb religious activities that are not state-sanctioned.”
Goh added: “Beijing is paranoid about Chinese Christians’ interaction with Christians overseas. As a result, they are penalizing Christians to deter them from ‘receiving foreign influence.’ It is a shame that the Chinese government constantly manipulates laws to violate the religious freedom of its citizens.”